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Study questions nursing home for veterans

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- A proposed veterans nursing facility in Clarksburg does not make the best use of state funds, nor is it in the best interest of the state's veterans, according to an industry official.

John Alfano is chief executive officer of the West Virginia Health Care Association. He said Monday that a study conducted earlier this year shows that:

n The state does not need additional nursing facility beds;

n A veterans nursing home does not guarantee unlimited access to all veterans;

n The state should explore alternatives, such as converting existing facilities and using home-based care.

State Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, disputed the study's findings and said the nursing home will be good for not only the state's veterans but also the local economy.

"I take exception that we don't need this," he said. "This will accommodate all West Virginians. It will be centrally located, next to the existing VA hospital and we will be able to use some of the hospital's services, so there's no duplication of services."

Occupancy in private nursing homes has been dropping, Alfano said. And, the number of state veterans is expected to decline by about 12 percent over the next decade, he said.

"When you have a state veterans home, it requires a certain amount of state money. What we'll have is yet another new program competing for dollars, when we have more than 10,000 people in homes right now that we are trying to take care of," Alfano said.

"We're not even able to keep pace with people who currently are in need of care."

State legislators ignored the study when they drafted a bill to sell bonds to help pay for construction costs of the new facility, Alfano said. The bonds will be retired using profits from the Veterans Cash scratch-off instant lottery game.

Gov. Bob Wise signed the bill last week.

The association commissioned the study from the West Virginia Health Care Authority to offer state legislators an alternative to building new veterans nursing homes, Alfano said.

A veteran-only nursing home will be competing with other long-term senior facilities for funding as well as staff, Alfano said.

"It's so hard to get staff as it is," he said. "The state has limited dollars for seniors. The pie is only so big and when you add another program, everyone's share gets just a little bit smaller."

Staff writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com.

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